Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: MoneySavingMom.com is born

After the success of the online Supermarket Savings 101 course, I started helping some local ladies with couponing and was putting together a list of the best deals at nearby stores for them each week. I kept thinking about how I was sure others could benefit from these lists outside of my circle of local friends.

At the same time, I felt like my personal blog was becoming too over-run with frugal posts and I wanted to have a place to freely share those. I looked for a blog which was covering the drugstore deals and teaching people step-by-step how to cut their grocery bill, and, surprisingly, I found none.

(Back in 2007, blogging was still a new phenomenon so while there were some finance and frugal blogs, to my knowledge, there weren’t any blogs which were specifically dedicated to sharing deals. And based upon the emails I was receiving, I knew that people were really looking for specific, detailed information on how to work the deals and get the best bang for their buck at the grocery store.)

So I kept feeling this nudge in my heart to start a blog dedicated to helping women with the nuts and bolts of using coupons, getting the best deals and also to just share things about finances and saving money we had learned during our lean law school years. I approached my husband about the blog idea and he loved it. However, we both sat on it for a few weeks as we wanted to make sure it was the direction God was leading and I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew.

I also needed a name for the blog, if I were going to start one. We tossed around a lot of possibilities but finally landed on MoneySavingMom.com. I bought the domain and opened up a little Blogger blog. I didn’t even have a header designed for a few months and it was as barebones as it could be, but people started coming and coming and coming. Pretty soon, the blog was averaging around 5,000 visitors per day, then 10,000, then 15,000 and on and on it went.

MoneySavingMom.com has far exceeded my wildest dreams and I’m humbled that God would allow me to be apart of this. Many times when people ask me what is the key to this blog’s success, I’ll tell them, “Hard work and the blessing of God.” I have put a lot of time and effort into the blog and believe that the lessons I’ve learned through failure have been invaluable. However, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that MoneySavingMom.com would not be anywhere near what it is without God’s blessing upon it.

For some reason, God allowed us to be at the right place at the right time. We didn’t know that the economy was going to go downhill just a few months after MoneySavingMom.com was born. Nor did we know that couponing and frugality were going to become extremely popular. In addition, I knew very little about SEO when I started (search engine optimization, i.e. how you get your blog to show up at the top of the list when people use a search engine).

I’ve made some major mistakes along the way. I’ve offended people by careless words and actions. I’ve struggled with having my priorities in order. I’ve unintentionally hurt people who are very close to me. I struggle with thinking I am somebody (and every time that happens, God will smack me right in the forehead to remind me how human and fallible I am!)

It’s been a humbling and growing process to have the responsibility upon my shoulders of hundreds of thousands of people around the world reading what I write. You all have been gracious, long-suffering and incredibly kind to me along the way and I appreciate it very much.

I’m honored to be at a place now where I can completely choose my own hours to work and have a very talented team of people who do much of the behind-the-scenes work so that I can give the best part of my day to my husband and children. It hasn’t always been this way and if I were to do over parts of my life, I’d definitely seek, by the grace of God, to work less and have my priorities more in order.

Working from home can be a great thing, but if your family and friends are run over or short-changed in the process, it’s not worth it. At the end of my life, it won’t matter how many blog posts I wrote or how much money I made, but it will matter that I was faithful as a wife and mom! As I’ve often said, anyone can be a successful blogger, but only one person can be your husband’s wife and your children’s mom.

Over the next few weeks, I’d love to answer any specific questions you all might have related to working from home in my Saturday posts. So if you have a question related to working from home you’d love to see answered, please leave it in the comments here or email me. I can’t promise I’ll have an answer or that I’ll be able to get to every question (depending upon how many are asked!), but I’ll at least pick a few and give them my best shot!

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Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: A blog series, an ebook and an ecourse

If you’re new here, be sure to read the first posts in this Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series here.

My “brilliant” idea back in 2006 to start a website with quick and frugal ebooks and money-saving tips fell pretty much flat on its face. The website design was atrocious because I didn’t know the first thing about designing a site from scratch (I only have a basic knowledge of HTML — enough to make very minor tweaks, not design a site from the ground up!) and I ran out of time to invest into bettering it because my husband got a job in another city and we ended up having to move in less than a month’s time.

Between moving, pregnancy, being a wife and mom and running my blog and other business, life was full and my initial “grandiose” idea got shoved to the back burner.

But it wasn’t just because all of those things that I didn’t continue on with SimplyCentsible.com, the main reason I stopped trying to build it up was because no one really seemed interested and there was little to no traffic to it after I put in hours of work and promoted it rather heavily. I decided maybe there just really wasn’t that much interest out there on frugality. Or maybe I just wasn’t the person to be talking about it. So I dropped the idea and went back to blogging as usual.

However, around that time, I did happen to mention our (at that time) $35-per-week grocery budget sort of off-hand in one of my posts. Little did I dream the kind of interest that wold conjure up! People started delurking and emailing to ask, “How on earth do you feed your family for $35 per week?” Since I had been using coupons for over six years at that point, I had kind of forgotten that most people spent significantly more on groceries!

But as the barrage of questions began coming, I realized that our grocery budget was apparently way, way low compared with most of the rest of society. So I started answering the questions by doing a blog series on my personal blog on “Supermarket Savings.”

That blog series exploded into something I never could have imagined: people started telling their friends, who told their friends, who told their friends. Before I knew it, my little blog was getting around 5,000 visitors per day — and people were begging for more help with lowering their grocery budget and reducing their overall expenses.

I tweaked and expanded the Supermarket Savings series into an ebook and it sold incredibly well. I mentally gave a big sigh of relief that it was finished! I figured the questions and emails would now die down as the ebook pretty much covered all the basic details on using coupons, playing the drugstore game and getting the most bang for your buck at the grocery store.

Well, the questions didn’t stop. In fact, the emails started pouring in from people who were brand-new to couponing and had no idea where to start. Again and again, I realized that they just wanted someone to hold their hand and walk them through step-by-step how to drastically cut their grocery budget.

They needed more than just the basics; they needed very detailed specifics on how to work the deals. The thought of setting up a blog to share these details and specifics still hadn’t crossed my mind yet, but I did decide to teach an online course called “Supermarket Savings 101.” There was nothing out there like it from everything I researched and, based upon the response and emails I was receiving, there was a huge need for this.

So, two weeks after Kaitlynn was born, I opened up registration for the online class. My plan was to teach a small number of participants the materials in my Supermarket Savings ebook at a more in-depth level. There would be different audio lessons, handouts, free ebooks on frugal living and a forum for participants to interact. In addition, there would be assignments every week which the class members had to complete and turn in which I would give feedback on.

My hope was that I would use the materials from this pilot class to create a downloadable ecourse to sell. I knew that having the real-time feedback and questions would be invaluable in helping me to craft a course which could benefit the most people.

I set the class registration price at $17.95 for the two-week class and announced it on my blog. I’d never done something this ambitious before and my goal was to get 20 registrations. I figured that would be a good number to work with to provide enough differing backgrounds and areas of the country to cover a lot of the potential questions and situations people are in.

I was a little blown away when I ended up with over 70 registrants for the online class! I was very thrilled, but it was also a bit daunting because I had a great turn out of participants, but now I had to figure out what I was going to teach and how I was going to teach it — and how I was going to try and give feedback to 70 different class participants. I was hoping I wasn’t setting myself up for another disastrous failure!

…to be continued next Saturday

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Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: Learning from those who are older and wiser

My apologies that this didn’t get posted on Saturday as I’d planned. Some unexpected things came up and writing this post got ditched for more important things. If you’re new here, be sure to read the first posts in this Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series here.

After my husband finished law school and I stopped working as a marketing manager for the homeschool magazine, I cut back significantly on the time I spent working on business endeavors. It was wonderfully freeing and I felt like I was finally able to focus on my family and home again after neglecting many things for months.

Before my daughter got up in the morning or during her afternoon naptime, I continued to work on building the blog and our online business. The blog had grown to have around 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per day, so there was an increasing load of email and comments to keep up with. Plus, our online book business was slowly picking up. There were always at least a few orders every day and when we ran sales, there’d be a slew of at least 30 to 50 orders.

I had plenty to do, but I was looking for ways to be a little more efficient and maximize the return on my investment of time when it came to business stuff. So I started spending more time learning more about monetizing a blog. I began observing other bloggers who were making a full-time income from blogging and trying to determine what made them successful and what was working for them.

I discovered that most of those who were doing well were honest, straight-forward, unique, creative and they blogged often and wrote well. I also noticed that they usually utilized multiple streams of income. In many cases, not only were they offering private ad sales, but they also had ad networks plus they participated in various affiliate marketing opportunities and some even produced ebooks and downloadable products. One thing was clear: they didn’t put all their eggs into one basket.

The thought of making a full-time income from blogging seemed utterly unattainable to me, but I remember thinking how incredible that it would be. I figured it was something only a small handful of really smart, really talented people who got in at the right time and place could ever pull off. But it fascinated me and I kept watching and learning from those who were doing it well.

At the same time, I continued to spend a lot of time writing ebooks as these were our best-selling items and required very little upfront costs. Plus, since I had set up the download process through Clickbank, unless a customer had a technical issue, the buying process was entirely automated. It wasn’t unusual for me to make between $15 and $30 per day in ebook profits. And when I ran a sale or released a new ebook, the earnings would be much higher than that.

I was encouraged and excited and I realized that the more I could automate things, the more I could increase the business income without it requiring more time and effort on my behalf.

One day, I had an idea to produce a little ebook with 10 different fast and frugal dinner menus complete with recipes and tips. I called the ebook Simply Centsible Suppers and it sold like hotcakes! After that ebook was such a success, I wrote another called Simply Centsible Breakfasts. Again, it sold really well. I was selling these ebooks for $2.97, so after the fees associated with the download, I was making less than $2 in profit per book. However, it was really apparent that I’d hit on a hot topic.

Being the entrepreneurial person I am, I started to brainstorm all sorts of things I could do with this idea. I envisioned a whole line of ebooks: Simply Centsible Snacks, Simply Centsible Side Dishes, Simply Centsible Sack Lunches… you get the picture. Then, I decided I should set up a website which was called SimplyCentsible.com that had articles on frugality and which promoted my ebooks.

I had just found out we were expecting our second child and was in the throes of morning-noon-and-night sickness, so I figured it was the perfect time for me to work on setting up a new website. And so I went to work setting up SimplyCentsible.com — a website which I thought was destined to really take off and put into practice all these monetization ideas I’d been gleaning over the past year.

My brain was spinning as I lay there day after day sick as a dog on the couch. I’d hit on a brilliant idea — or so I thought.

But time would prove that it was a very short-lived “brilliant” idea.

…To be continued on Saturday

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Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: Working 60 to 70 hours per week is not something I’d recommend

If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read the first parts of the Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series.

While I was trying my hand at blogging and building up our online bookstore, I was also forging relationships with some other family businesses and Christian homeschool companies. One of those relationships happened to be with a family who published a nationwide homeschooling magazine.

They mentioned they were looking for someone to join their team on a very part-time basis helping with some marketing responsibilities. I inquired further and discovered it was something I thought I might be able to do as it just involved researching companies to contact about promotions and cross-promotional opportunities and the contacting them and trying to work out cross-promotions.

I’d had a little bit of experience working with online companies because of my wedding business, online bookstore and blog, so they were willing to bring me on to work about two hours per day for them. It was tedious work, which often resulted in dead ends, but I was learning so much about creating pitches and marketing a product and — best of all! — I was getting paid for my time!

After a few months of working in this very part-time capacity for this homeschooling magazine, I guess they decided I had some potential, because they asked me to stay on in a more permanent position and gave me more responsibilities for heading up some of their larger promotions and brainstorming creative marketing ideas.

Before I knew it, I was officially their Marketing Manager and was also managing an ad sales team. Much of what I was doing, I had little experience in, but I found that I could learn so much just by reading great books on marketing, observing other companies and analyzing what was working for them and then being willing to experiment.

It was so rewarding to see hard work pay off, magazine sales increase, ad sales generated and new ideas blossoming. I was loving just about every minute of what I was doing. There was only one problem: between my responsibilities for the magazine and my own blog and business, I was often working 60 to 70 hours per week, in addition to being a wife, mom and homemaker.

I remember working well into the night — or even all night some nights — just to get everything done. And working so many hours definitely took its toll on me and I look at pictures of myself from that time period and realize how utterly sleep-deprived and exhausted I looked. I certainly wouldn’t recommend those long work hours to anyone else!

The good news was that between the various things I was doing from home and my husband’s part-time income, we were able to stay out of debt, I was able to stay home with our daughter and we actually had a little breathing room in our budget for the very first time since being married.

In addition, my blog and our online business had continued to grow. So when my husband finished his last week of law school, we felt it was time for me to quit working for the homeschool magazine and just focus on our home, family and my own business.

It was a big leap of faith to give up the regular monthly income from the homeschool magazine — especially since Jesse still had to study for the bar and pass the bar before he’d be able to get a full-time job — but we had made it through law school debt-free (by the grace of God!) and we were ready for me to work less and spend more time being a wife and mom.

…to be continued next Saturday

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Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: My first feeble attempts at this thing called “blogging”

If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read the first parts of the Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom series.

After we shut down the wedding business, I threw my energies into being a mommy to my brand-new baby and continuing to try to find a way to earn enough from home so we could stay out of debt and I could stay home.

I wrote more ebooks, I expanded our online bookstore, I started an eBay store and I worked on building up our customer base and email list. Every day, I tried to come up with a new idea to implement. I wrote as many articles as I could for various online websites in order to get our name our there and garner free advertising (because I couldn’t afford to pay for advertising!). I joined a Yahoo group where WAHMs could connect and exchange small fliers to put in each other’s packages.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I was starting to see a little fruit for my labors. We were having repeat sales and the website was receiving around 150 to 200 visitors per day. Even though I didn’t know what a blog really was, I had heard it was a great way to help build up a website. So I decided to add one to my online bookstore website.

Let me tell you, folks, that first year of posting was pathetic. I still make plenty of mistakes these days, but way back then, it was awful.

Have you ever been to a blog which had paragraphs the size of chapters? Long, run-on, meandering sentences? Was very, very boring? Had poor grammar? My blog had all those and much more. In fact, a few years ago, I deleted almost a year’s worth of posts from that blog just because I couldn’t stand to so much as look at them — let alone read them.

But you know what is so crazy? People started coming to this atrociously-written blog of mine… and they kept coming back! I don’t know if it was out of pity or if it was because they just were bored out of their mind, but — for some odd reason — I started building up a blog readership.

It began with a dozen people (probably all related to me!) and then there were 50 daily readers. And then 100. Within two years, I was averaging 500-1000 visitors per day.

We had some lively discussion on all sorts of hot topics, I stuck my foot in my mouth a lot and I learned that, in the blogging world, you better be prepared to back up every statement you make. I also learned that you can never please everyone and, if you’re going to make bold statements, you need very thick skin.

I look back on those first few years of blogging and regret a lot of things I said: I was too bold, too opinionated and too ostracizing of those who didn’t believe exactly like I believed. At the same time, though, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have my beliefs and writings challenged and picked apart by those who didn’t agree with me. It forced me to really examine why I believe what I believe and whether it was in line with God’s Word. It also helped me to become less critical and judgmental of those who believe or live differently than me.

While I think it is wonderful to have strong convictions and beliefs, I also now think these are only good when they are tempered with a lot of grace and love for others. I can’t possibly criticize someone else for the decisions they are making when I’ve not walked in their shoes or carried their burdens.

In addition to building up the online bookstore and starting a blog, I also landed a job working virtually as the marketing manager for a large homeschooling magazine. How that came to be was a rather interesting set of circumstances, but I’ll have to save that story for next time.

…To be continued next Saturday

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Becoming a Work-At-Home Mom: A blessing in disguise

If you’ve missed the first posts in this series, read them here.

While in our first year of having the custom wedding business, we had our first baby. Needless to say, my life was forever changed – in a wonderful way. At the same time, though, I found it was hard to juggle the demands of a fussy newborn, with coordinating the details of the wedding business.

While I was pregnant and had a lot of extra time on my hands, I had experimented with various additional streams of income to add to our current website. One of those was selling books. I started off with books on preparing for marriage and when I saw that there was a market, I kept expanding to other good books and resources our family has appreciated.

I also was getting the itch to write, so I wrote a small booklet on some small ideas girls and teens could do to earn money from home. We had very little extra business money to work with, so I had a friend edit it and bartered with another friend for the cover design. In order to come up with enough money to pay for a tiny print run of the books, I ran a pre-publication special with my current email list.

Much to my surprise, I sold 100 booklets during the pre-publication special and had enough to pay for a print run of 200. It seems like such a microscopic number, but for me, it was huge.

A few weeks after I released the ebook, a small family business contacted me and asked if I’d sell them ebook rights to my book for $100. I didn’t really even know what an ebook was, let alone know how to turn my book into one, but $100 was a big number at that point, so my husband and I felt it would be a good move. The friend who designed the booklet layout kindly availed herself to turn the book into an ebook for me for $25.

So, I sold the rights to the ebook to this other company (by selling the rights, I gave them permission to sell an unlimited number of ebooks through their site for whatever price they chose) and I entered this whole new world of ebooks. I’d never given any thought to the possibility of someone paying you for a download, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to offer the ebook on my site. I was completely surprised to discover there is quite a big market for ebooks — especially simple how-to ebooks — and I started concocting other future ebook ideas.

While all this was going on, the wedding business was continuing to demand a lot of my time and it was producing little income. And we were still just barely limping by. We were beginning to see more profit from our business — but that was mainly from the sale of books.

I started to wonder if maybe I should discontinue the wedding business and just focus on selling books, since that’s what seemed to be working. But it was really embarrassing to me to think of having to admit the wedding business hadn’t worked out. I wasn’t a quitter like that and I figured there had to be a way to make it work.

Well, guess what? The next two dress projects turned out to be disasters. The customers were very upset with the work and it was weeks of pulling my hair out and trying to figure out how to fix the issues and make the customers satisfied. But it was to no avail.

My husband and I really felt that God used these difficult situations to make me willing to close down Covenant Wedding Source. It was hard and humbling to do, but it was the best thing for our family and my sanity. And I also needed to focus the time I did have on things which would be profitable.

For months, I struggled with feeling like a failure over the fact that the business didn’t work out. Now that I look back, though, I realize just what a blessing in disguise this was. Not only did I learn such valuable lessons through failure, but I also go this crazy idea to start a blog. Little did I know what those feeble blogging attempts would lead to!

But first, I had a lot more lessons to learn and experience to gain.

…To be continued next Friday

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